Bootstrapping in a language of thought: a formal model of numerical concept learning

Cognition. 2012 May;123(2):199-217. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2011.11.005. Epub 2012 Jan 26.


In acquiring number words, children exhibit a qualitative leap in which they transition from understanding a few number words, to possessing a rich system of interrelated numerical concepts. We present a computational framework for understanding this inductive leap as the consequence of statistical inference over a sufficiently powerful representational system. We provide an implemented model that is powerful enough to learn number word meanings and other related conceptual systems from naturalistic data. The model shows that bootstrapping can be made computationally and philosophically well-founded as a theory of number learning. Our approach demonstrates how learners may combine core cognitive operations to build sophisticated representations during the course of development, and how this process explains observed developmental patterns in number word learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Learning
  • Mathematics
  • Models, Psychological
  • Models, Statistical
  • Thinking / physiology*